Saturday, January 31, 2004

Tony dodges the bullet.  Twice

Twice Tony Blair came close to the potential brink, and twice he escaped.  By only a hair did the Labor leader who boasts an extraordinary majority in Commons win his education legislation; only by a single man's judgment was he exonerated in the now infamous Kelly Affair.  Lord Hutton simply didn't find evidence that Blair's government cooked the books on Iraqi intelligence, though the bounds of his inquiry were limited to the specifics surrounding Kelly's suicide and Andrew Gilligan's alleged exaggerations on the BBC.  Whether or not facts were manipulated, Dr. David Kelly one of Brittan's top arms experts, seems to have had doubts about the continuing threat of WMD's, which precipitated the leak in the first place.  It's poignant that Hutton's report was issued during the same week as our Dr. David (Kay) was telling us WMD's probably weren't present at the start of hostilities and probably won't be found.  That from a man who who was sure they existed, but apparently isn't the kind to find a fact he won't reveal or fess up to.  How refreshing.

This past week's news in our former Mother Country made me consider once again the strange saga of the attractive, articulate, brilliant Tony Blair.  Mirroring, many thought, the career and rise of Bill Clinton, Blair rescued the UK from years of Thatcher Conservatism.  He used Clinton-like tactics, but with substantially more success because, unlike our President, he garnered and kept huge majorities giving him a clear mandate to dominate the public agenda.  Clearly, Bill and Tony were a duo, soul-mates it appeared like no other President and Prime Minister since perhaps FDR and Churchill, albeit in a very different way.  It was in that context that Blair's almost instantaneous move to the side of George W. Bush at the Crawford ranch shortly after the Supremes named him President, was stunning and seemingly incongruous.  They have been joined at the hip ever since.  I still don't quite understand it.

When history is written perhaps it will show that Tony Blair was interested above all in power and influence.  Being close to, and more significantly having the ear of, the US President whoever that may be, translates for him into a larger than life role for himself and the UK which, relative to some other countries around the world, is a small nation.  History may also show something else.  I believe, and it's only a hypothesis, that we could not, would not, have gone to war with Iraq the way we did absent Blair's support.  His acquiescence made it possible for Bush to move ahead without the UN, specifically France and Germany.  The Coalition of the Willing, without the UK, would have been an impossible sham, no offence intended Spain et al.  Ultimately, that may be Tony Blair's legacy, certainly with regard to world politics.  Chaney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice and all those enterprising think tankers may have whispered the words, but Tony Blair gave voice to action.  In a curious way, "he's the man."

I'm one of those avid C-Span listeners to Prime Minister's Questions and always marvel at Tony Blair's style and syntax.  Quite a show.  But I'm not sure I appreciate him as much as was the case in the past.  I'm not alone in that regard.  My guess is the bullets are going to get closer. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Sadly Moving to Safer Ground. Again.

In the world of sound bytes and simplistic platitudes; when public officials of all stripes have virtually been forced to wear silly flag pins to prove their patriotism, it's hard to step out.  That's exactly what Howard Dean has tried to do and it's precisely why his run for the Presidency seems to be loosing steam.  Electability is the mantra of the day, and a multitude of forces have conspired to declare that he is not the winning kind.  Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be unhappy with Kerry, Edwards or Clark.  I also think that any one of them might win; hope for all of our sakes that they will win.  But it's another short term fix.  Read Robert Reich's thoughtful Op Ed piece in today's New York Times.  Like Dean, he is convinced that Democrats have to return to their core beliefs, have to stand for something, have to become a movement again.

Marketing is all about focus and consistently delivering one's message.  Like it or not, marketing is what greases the mechanism of American thinking these days.  The Republicans, specifically the Conservative coalition that is in control, have been brilliant at it since the days when Deaver and Company promoted the Morning in America Presidency.  It isn't a matter of whether the media have a Right or Left bias, it's that the Conservative view of things has become politically correct, the default position.  While opponents of the War are in fact deeply concerned about putting our young people at needless and unjustified risk, they are painted as not supporting the troops.  Repeat that often enough in the current environment and the accuser gets away with a lie that becomes a perceived truth.

At this moment we are in the midst of an international quagmire where everyone seems to hate us, with 3000 plus American deaths and casualties (not to mention never to be counted Iraqi losses) and exit polls show only tertiary concern with the War (and thus with foreign affairs).  Sure it's natural that bread and butter issues, health and education are given top priority, but it is also a mark of how successful the propaganda has been.  Even David Kay, the dispassionate inspector, feels it necessary to caveat his conclusion that WMD's just weren't there with a defense of the President.  It was all in the faulty intelligence and those guys (read scapegoat) owe him an apology.  What happened to Harry Truman's buck stopping? 

So we are sneaking off again to safe ground.  We weren't ready for the Wisconsin Senator in 1968, the New Jersey Senator in 2000 and, much as it pains me, apparently for the Vermont Governor today.  When will be ready?

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Random Thoughts after Iowa

It is hard to predict how the Democratic contest will end after Iowa.  Is Howard Dean out of the game?  Perhaps, but voters can surprise.  The idea of electability certainly has certainly come to the fore, but I'm not certain we really know what it takes to be a winner yet.  Dean's position is that warmed over neo-whatever is not the way to go.  Many of his opponents represent just that, presumably safer bets, more comfortable old shoes.  Perhaps that is the only thing that Americans might buy which, given where it has led us, is pretty depressing.

Meanwhile, George Bush's performance on Tuesday night reminded me how silly and staged our State of the Union speeches have become regardless of who is President.  Clinton was no better also using those human props in the peanut gallery to  signal yet another mindless breakout of applause and leaping to the feet.  Well our public officials do need some exercise. 

Bush's speech also reminded me of why I still hope for a Dean victory and would settle for most of the others, save Joe Lieberman.  What stuck me in particular, and what was most offensive, was the religious coda in which the President appealed to his core constituency with a series of statements that to my mind had prejudicial overtones.  Invoking the sanctity of marriage (code words quickly understood), he made short shrift of the deviant sinning same sex partners and offered a paternalistic hand to the unmarried poor (guess what color they are) who so notoriously avoid tying the knot with God's blessing.  Echoing Nancy Reagan, he seems to think that the ultimate solution to AIDS is to "just say no."  And what if you can't or don't want to?  Finally another passionate plea for funding faith-based organizations, his continuing effort the subvert separation of Church and State.  I don't remember the Supreme Court appointing George W. Bush as my pastor and frankly don't look for spiritual guidance from people like Rick Santorum or any other elected official for that matter.  Don't get me wrong, I respect their individual faith and the conviction that goes with it, but not their imposition of it on others.

This year is going to be a real test for America.  Let's hope we don't face another election in which most people sit at home voting there for none of the above.  I'm not sure we can afford it, nor do I think can the world.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Dr. Judith Steinberg

While I never understood her obsession with Bill Clinton's sex life, I'm really quite a fan of Maureen Dowd.  Funny thing is, I don't know if she has a husband or, if so, who he is.  He plays no role in my reading her regular NY Times column.  A woman who has broken through in the competitive world of journalism and yet today she writes a piece questioning why Dr. Judith Steinberg, the wife and one time medical practice partner, of Howard Dean is not out on the campaign trail.  Why doesn't this lady give up what she's doing to be at her husband's side?  Now anyone who reads my blogs knows that I am a Dean supporter, and that I think effecting regime change in Washington is a high national priority, but that doesn't mean what Dr. Steinberg is doing is without consequence.

She is a country doctor with real patients — a doctor who still makes the occasional house calls like our family doctor and others like him regularly did when I was a kid.  In a time when for most people medicine is in crisis, what could be more important than that?  Ask her patients how they would feel if she hung a "closed for the duration of my husband's campaign" sign on the door.  Obviously he hasn't ask her to do that.  One has to wonder if she were the one running for President whether Maureen Dowd or others would be complaining that Dr. Dean had not abandoned his medical practice to be at her side?  Of course they wouldn't.  Maureen, have you heard of the Women's Movement?  And by the way, where would you be, placed in the same situation?  I still admire your columns, still will read them every Sunday and Thursday, but shame on you today.  And bravo to you Dr. Steinberg, for having the commitment that I so admire in my own doctor, a man who happens to be married to a practicing physician just like you.